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A Shout From The Attic: I'm Your Father

...I went to the playground’s low wall, from which the railings had been removed, and stood before a smiling man who stood outside on the pavement near the gateposts. He was charming as he introduced himself as my father. I noticed that he had heavily nicotine-stained hands and part of a finger missing. He was very warm and kind and I enjoyed the moment. It held some kind of completeness, some sense of triumph for me. I was not to see him again for another two years...

Ronnie Bray tells of rare encounters with his father. To read more ofd Ronnie's life story please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on his page.

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There’s a stranger by the wall:
See him wave and hear him call.
Then your heart will jump for joy.
He’s your daddy, little boy.


It was sometime after Father failed to keep his appointment – perhaps six years - as I was playing games during playtime at school when a class-fellow of mine ran to me saying that a man wanted to see me. I went to the playground’s low wall, from which the railings had been removed, and stood before a smiling man who stood outside on the pavement near the gateposts. He was charming as he introduced himself as my father. I noticed that he had heavily nicotine-stained hands and part of a finger missing. He was very warm and kind and I enjoyed the moment. It held some kind of completeness, some sense of triumph for me. I was not to see him again for another two years.

My mother was connected to a ‘grapevine’ through which she heard news from distant and unexpected quarters. My sister does it to this day and swears I know all she tells me, and all the players to which she points. I have never had my ear in the flow of news and would probably not be interested in it if I had, for I tire of small talk so quickly that I never start at it unless trapped.

One day she told me that my father was living at the bottom of Spring Street next to the chip shop. There was an old town house there of about three storeys whose halcyon days had fled with Victoria’s accession. Up two flights of rickety stairs that seemed too delicate for use, my father lived with his new wife, Kitty, the former Catherine Marshall. All smiles and pleasantry greeted me.

My Aunt Kitty, as I called her, was always kind and friendly. She was a small dark-haired woman, small-boned and all her spirit gone through living with my father too long. I always felt guilty when I met her because my father was not good to her. She had long dark hair such as is common in Irish girls, and the obvious need of nourishment.

The apartment was small, dark, uncomfortable, cramped, and, sadly, normal for my father. Norina, my half sister, was a blonde chubby cherub of a toddler with a smile to melt the hardest heart.

At this time, my father had abandoned the cobbling trade and was driving a van for Rushworth’s, the well-known Huddersfield department store. Father delivered for them. I met him once at the garages in Westgate, up the yard behind Ernest Clough’s gentlemen’s’ outfitters. He took me out in the van a couple of times. I had to crouch down so that I could not be seen riding illegally with him.

Behind our house in Fitzwilliam Street there was an enclosure formed by the house backs of the upper portion of Fitzwilliam Street, those of the north end of Portland Street and a part of Trinity Street. It was cinder track with a hanging ground in the centre, some large posts and grass and a place for bonfires when required. He let me drive the van there. It was a bit nice.

He let me drive his coal wagon later when he was a coal deliveryman. This was up Spring Street for a fair distance and was very nice. At other times, he would let me shift the gears when he drove, as I was to do later, first with Matthew and later with Peter.

On one occasion when I visited Father at Spring Street, the coal delivery wagon was parked outside the house in the process of being piled high with assorted furniture. This was the first time I had heard the expression ‘moonlight flit’ and learned that the George Brays were on the point of doing one.

My father’s driver’s mate was a young Scottish man, appropriately called Jock. The three of us set off with the wagon load of furniture into some part of Huddersfield that I did not recognise then and still have no idea where it was.

Down a lane from a road were two or three stone cottages in a terrace. One of them was empty. “Do you feel strong, Jock” my father asked his friend. “I feel like a gorilla,” replied Jock. The pair of them threw their shoulders at the door and it popped open. At this point a woman left the next door cottage, walked up the lane, returning in a few minutes with her father who was the owner of the cottages.

A discussion followed. My father offered to pay rent and rates but the man was not to be persuaded that someone who had come to squat and who was prepared to enter the house illegally would make a suitable tenant. My father asked him to ‘be a white man’ – an expression totally lost on the immovable landlord. We piled back into the cab and set off in great defeat and not a little shame for Spring Street where the George Brays flitted back into their former home to the unexpressed but obvious amusement of their neighbours.

It was on one of my periodic visits to the Spring Street apartment that my father gave me a photograph of himself taken during his military service in the North African Desert. He also gave me a bronze medal, duly inscribed, which had been presented to him for being the ‘best man at PT in the regiment.’

He also gave me a story he had written called ‘The White Man Amongst the Natives.’ It was a sort of desert romance with no great merit. At his request I returned this to him.

He also gave me copies of two or three songs he had written. He said that he wanted to make money writing songs so that he could give it to me. Ah! What are dreams for? The medal got lost as mementoes of childhood are wont to do, and the photograph and the songs followed suit.


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